New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees was sacked 37 times during the 2013 season, 40 if you count the three playoff sacks he took during trips to Philadelphia (2) and Seattle (1). It was by far the most he’d ever been sacked in a season and lends itself to an alarming trend.
The 35-year-old Brees is on the wrong side of Father Time when it comes to NFL longevity. As he ages, he’s going to slow down, even if he’s convinced otherwise.
Brees discussed the future with reporters during the Saints' wrap-up interviews for this season, via the Saints' official website:
Obviously as you get older there are other things week to week, the challenge of keeping your body ready to play at the highest level, that type of thing. That’s Mother Nature catching up with all of us, but I don’t feel like I’ve physically, mentally, psychologically (lost anything). I still feel like I’m on this upward tick. I certainly won’t let myself believe otherwise.
An “upward tick” might be a bit of an exaggeration, but Brees’ numbers didn’t show any real drop-off, even though he was taking more punishment than usual.
Brees threw for 5,162 yards in 2013. It was the fourth time in his career he’d eclipsed the 5,000-yard mark and the third season in a row. Brees also threw 39 touchdown passes and only 12 interceptions and finished the season with a 104.7 passer rating.
|Drew Brees: 2008 - 2013|
|Season||Yards||Completion %||TDs||INTs||Passer Rat.|
|Pro Football Reference|
Even though the numbers are still great, Brees can’t possibly maintain Pro Bowl levels while continually being battered.
If the Saints can’t find a way to keep Brees from taking the same kind of abuse he did last season, eventually his body will pay the price, a toll from the many times he’s hit the turf or been crushed by a pass-rushing behemoth. The way to help Brees through this ordeal is for the Saints to beef up their offensive line.
New Orleans is going to head into the offseason with financial troubles. According to John Clayton of ESPN, the Saints now sit at approximately $12.5 million over the projected 2014 cap of $126.6 million. Before the team can contemplate signing a free agent to help protect Brees, it must deal with potentially departing tight end Jimmy Graham.
After Graham, center Brian De La Puente and right tackle Zach Strief are both set to become unrestricted free agents once the NFL calendar resets.
Brees is fully aware that the salary cap is an issue for the Saints and even told Larry Holder of The Times-Picayune he’d be willing to restructure his contract to give New Orleans a little more cash flow.
Whatever I can do to help this team, if they want to come to me and extend me even further, that'd be great.
Restructuring Brees' contract won’t completely get the Saints to where they want to be financially, and using the franchise tag on Graham could be crippling. With so many names inside the Saints organization that need to be addressed (either via restructuring or re-signing), it’s going to be tough for New Orleans to go out and make a huge splash on the open free-agent market.
If the money isn’t there to help Brees by bettering his offensive line via free agency, the Saints are going to have to look to the 2014 draft.
Because of their 11-5 record, the Saints won’t get to pick in the first round of the draft until the 27th selection. At that point, with so many storylines to play out in front of them in the 26 picks prior, the team might be better off taking the best player available. Or there may possibly be a higher-ranked player at a different position of need like cornerback, wide receiver or at a pass-rush position.
If New Orleans doesn’t take an offensive tackle in the first round, it needs to circle back around quickly and do so in the second.
Terron Armstead, a rookie with the Saints in 2013, finished the season strong and will likely be penciled in as the starting left tackle for 2014. That means the team could re-sign Strief to play right tackle or go with this early draft pick.
Brees isn’t going to play forever, meaning the window of opportunity for the Saints to make a Super Bowl push with him under center is closing. Keeping him healthy and providing him with as much time as possible to throw the football is a huge priority this offseason.
The biggest offseason decision for the Saints is obviously what to do with Graham at tight end. But after that, the offensive line has to be fixed next. Addressing that need early in the draft makes the most sense for New Orleans.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.
Knox Bardeen is the NFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report and the author of “100 Things Falcons Fans Should Know & Do Before they Die.” Be sure to follow Knox on Twitter.